In today’s Budget, George Osborne is expected to announce that every school in England will be removed from local authority control and convert to an academy.
The government’s renewed focus on the matter follows David Cameron’s ‘vision’ last summer of every school converting. The Education and Adoption Bill, currently under amendment before receiving Royal Assent, aims to increase ‘intervention powers’ and remove bureaucracy in the education system in order to convert schools into academies faster.
The plans would also vastly increase the role of Regional Schools Commissioner, of which there are currently eight responsible for the UK's academies.
The move would not affect schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where education is devolved, but it would effectively bring the role of local authority (LA) to an end in England.
Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the Local Government Association, says: "Ofsted has rated 82% of council maintained schools as good or outstanding, so it defies reason that councils are being portrayed as barriers to improvement. Ofsted has not only identified that improvement in secondary schools - most of which are academies - has stalled, but it has praised strong improvement in primary schools, most of which are maintained. Additionally, only 15% of the largest academy chains perform above the national average in terms of progress made by pupils, compared with 44% of councils. It's vital that we concentrate on the quality of education and a school's ability to deliver the best results for children, rather than on the legal status of a school, to make sure that we're providing the education and support needed in each area.
"Forcing schools to become academies strips parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice. We have serious concerns that Regional Schools Commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools.”
School leaders’ union NAHT says the education system’s performance would not change automatically if every school became an academy. Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, says: “Simply removing schools from local authority control, without considering the new frameworks of support that must surround, them will solve nothing by itself.
"We have no problem with academies; we just don't believe they are a panacea. We think the emphasis should be on school to school collaboration, without such concern about the exact legal vehicle. The challenges of the years ahead are challenges of capacity that will need national and regional co-ordination.”
One option could be to allow LAs to establish academy trusts, in order to keep accountability at a local level. Hobby continues: "We hope that local authorities will reinvent themselves to offer services that schools can buy into. It would make sense to us to allow some local authorities to establish academy chains."
Osborne is also expected to call for an extended school day in England. This would be used for extra curricular activities, with funding available for approximately 25% of schools. Teacher unions are concerned about funding and the extra pressure on schools’ workloads, with interim general secretary of ASCL Malcolm Trobe describing the plan as “complicated” and that it is “highly divisive to have these funded activities available in 25% of schools.”